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Shmini 5767

Shmini (Leviticus 9-11 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING! April 15th is designated as Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Many people ask, "How can I believe in God after the Holocaust?" (One sagacious individual once responded, "How can I believe in Mankind after the Holocaust?") Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt deals with the issue of how one responds to the Holocaust in his book, Finding Light in the Darkness (buy at a Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242). I thought the following excerpt might be thought-provoking:

___"This idea of the supremacy of personal choice is true even in the most extreme of circumstances. I have met many survivors of the Holocaust, all of whom were put through the most horrific experiences. There are those whose response was to turn away from God, but for some, it brought them even closer. It is a common myth to believe that the Holocaust pushed all those who experienced it away from God. Those who did distance themselves from God are perhaps more vociferous, but there are many others who responded very differently.

___"Before I go further, let me state that it is not for us, who did not go through such horrors, to judge those who did. We did not experience their pain and terror and are in no position to question why they did what they did. But one thing is clear. While the experience itself was not in their hands, their response to it was. Some chose to turn away from God; some chose to find solace and renewed faith in God. For those who turned away from God, it was their free choice that caused them to do so, not the Holocaust. To be sure, the Holocaust was a catalyst. But for many, also, the Holocaust was a catalyst for coming closer to their Creator. That was their choice also.

___"None of us can possibly know how we would have responded in those most horrific of circumstances and, as I have already said, it is not for us to pass judgment. But one thing is for sure — whatever might be denied us in this world, the ability to choose to grow from our experiences or to become resentful can never be taken away from us. We are all complete masters of our own spiritual destiny.

___"One of my most significant insights into this aspect of the Holocaust came in Krakow's old Jewish cemetery. I had brought a group of young Jews to Poland to gain a deeper understanding of the Holocaust, and we were accompanied by a survivor. As Holocaust experiences go, his had been pretty "bad." He was a member of the Sonderkommando in Birkenau. For eleven months, in 1944, he had worked in Crematoria II, taking the still warm bodies of Hungarian Jewry from the gas chambers and putting them in the ovens. He was a direct eyewitness to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews. Day after day, for eleven months, he saw the door of a gas chamber close on two thousand living, breathing human beings and saw it open, fifteen minutes later, to a twisted mass of lifeless flesh.

___"Our group asked him how he felt about God and he said that his belief in God had died in Birkenau. There could be no God after what he had seen.

___"On our way back from Auschwitz with him, we were visiting the old Jewish cemetery in Krakow and we bumped into another survivor who happened to be an Orthodox Jew. He had been in the Lodz Ghetto and eight different camps, including Auschwitz. He had now brought his two sons from Australia to see where he had grown up. Members of our group were bold enough to ask the question that was on all of our minds — mine included. How could he be an Orthodox Jew after all he had gone through?

___"We were shocked by the ferocity of the answer he shot back. How could someone not believe in God after the Holocaust? Anyone who survived had to have experienced miracles. In fact, the Holocaust itself was completely supernatural — that the Germans should wish to utterly eliminate a sector of the population that posed no threat to them whatsoever. It made no sense at all without putting God in the picture, was his response.

___"Not only that, he said, but he would challenge any survivor who did not believe in God on these issues. He said that a survivor might be angry at God. He might want nothing to do with God. He might even hate God. But he could not possibly believe that there was no God.

___"We mentioned what the survivor who was with our group had said to us and he asked to meet him. Nervously, I introduced them. I don't remember exactly what words passed between them, or how they were said. I just remember that it was passionate and powerful, and for twenty minutes the group stood transfixed listening to the debate. By the end of it all, the survivor who was with us admitted that he did believe in God, but after what he had been through, he did not want to deal with Him anymore. They cried, they embraced, and the other survivor said that he understood.

___"The second survivor told me he could argue the same point with any other survivor. That's a bold statement. Maybe he can and maybe he can't, but one thing is for sure. The Holocaust, as with all tragedy, has aspects that can move one away from God. But it equally has aspects that can move one closer. What actually happens is entirely within our human hands."

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Torah Portion of the Week

___Concluding the 7 days of inauguration for the Mishkan (Portable Sanctuary), Aaron, the High Priest, brings sacrifices for himself and the entire nation.

___Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, bring an incense offering on their own initiative, and are consumed by a heavenly fire (perhaps the only time when someone did something wrong and was immediately hit by "lightning").

___The Cohanim are commanded not to serve while intoxicated. The inaugural service is completed. G-d then specifies the species which are kosher to eat: mammals (those that have cloven hoofs and chew their cud), fish (those with fins and scales), birds (certain non-predators), and certain species of locusts. The portion concludes with the laws of spiritual defilement from contact with the carcasses of certain animals.

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Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

___When Aharon's two sons died, the Torah reports his reaction:

"And Aharon was silent." (Leviticus 10:3)

___How is it possible that Aharon was silent? What was going through his mind?

___Rabbi Moshe HaCohen Rice writes in Ohr HaMussar: Aharon was greatly praised for remaining silent -- for not complaining against the Almighty and for accepting the will of the Almighty. Why? Before something happens one might be able to take action to prevent it. However, afterwards, what can one do? He can fight it or he can accept it as the will of the Almighty. Was his acceptance of the Almighty's will exceptional or unique?

___The Sages constantly worked on accepting the will of the Almighty. Rabbi Akiva always used to say when something apparently negative happened, "All that the Almighty does is for the good." Nochum, Ish Gam Zu, used to say, "This, too, is for the good" ("ish gam zu" means "the man who has integrated into his being the idea regarding whatever happens to that 'this, too, is for the good.' ")

___However, when a person says, "All that the Almighty does is for the good" about something that originally disturbed or frustrated him, it implies that at first he was bothered by what happened. As soon as he realizes that the matter bothers him, he uses his intellect to overcome his negative reaction.

___Intellectually, he knows that all that the Almighty causes to occur is ultimately for the good and this knowledge enables him to accept the situation.

___An even higher level is to internalize the concept that whatever the Almighty does is positive and good. When this is a person's automatic evaluation of every occurrence, he does not have to keep convincing himself that a specific event is good. Such a person accepts with joy everything that occurs in his life.

___This was the greatness of Aharon. He remained silent because he knew clearly that everything the Almighty does is purposeful. When things consistently go well for a person, he feels an inner-joy. Acceptance of the Almighty's will is the most crucial attitude to make part of oneself for living a happy life. The more you learn to accept the will of the Almighty, the greater joy you will experience in your life!

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If God brings you to it,
He'll bring you through it.
-- Zachary Weixelbaum

In Loving Memory of
Reb Leib ben Nachum
by Howard Ash


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